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Ending where it all started/Paul Peterson

August 2, 2011
The Daily Mining Gazette

It is perhaps fitting to end something where it all started.

For me, that place is the Tapiola ball diamond.

It was early June of 1959 when Tapiola coach Milt Autio called my name late in a C.C. Twilight League contest against Stanton. The Blues, the two-time defending league champion, held a 7-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. The late Leo Durocher stood on the mound for the Wildcats.

Fresh from a year of playing ball at Central Michigan University, Durocher possessed a good fastball - enough to make a high school freshman more than a little nervous.

After taking one strike, I swung late at the next pitch and hit a slow grounder to shortstop that scored a runner from third base. But it felt like a home run to me, and I received congratulations in my first organized game.

Now, 1959 was a very long time ago. If you don't believe that, consider the following: Briggs Stadium was the home of the Tigers; a gallon of gas cost 19 cents at Wayne's Service in Tapiola; Copper Country Ford in Houghton just received its first Edsel; and the historic Kerredge Theatre in Hancock had burned down just a couple of weeks before.

That pinch-hit appearance began more than 50 years of baseball and softball for me. The long and winding road has taken me to places I never dreamed I would end up in.

There was baseball and fast-pitch softball in 1969 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., a place so scorching in the summer that you could only play night games. They say the heat is drier there, but 110 degrees is just one thing - hot.

My first game there under the lights resulted in a lost fly ball (I was playing left field) hitting me squarely on top of the head. The good news was that it didn't bounce over the fence.

A baseball game later that year between two rival training companies at Fort Polk, La., was memorable for the weather conditions, warm and unbelievably humid. Located within spitting distance of a menacing swamp, the military base was known not fondly to most soldiers ever stationed there as "Fort Puke."

You only had to sit in the dugout to break into a heavy sweat. My team's main goal that day was to get the game over with as quickly as possible ... and find some cool liquid refreshments.

Stationed in Germany in 1971, my 44th Signal Service Group team advanced to the fast-pitch USAREUR regional finals held in Stuttgart. In a game that took 27 innings and parts of three rainy and foggy days to complete, we lost a 2-1 decision to the 2nd Armored Division.

I came to appreciate how good pitching could thoroughly dominate a fast-pitch contest. The 44th Signal hurler, a paunchy staff sergeant named Schaffer, could deflect pitches off his gut that would change directions two or three times on the way to the plate.

Returning home in 1972, I tried my hand at baseball again. At best, I was an average hardball player who swung for the fences and struck out too many times.

By now, the slow-pitch craze was under way, and it wasn't long before I took up that sport and organized a team in my home town.

The years have literally flown by since then, but they have left some indelible memories.

There was the 1977 Karvakko's Tournament that had 32 teams entered from as far away as Fond du Lac, Wis., and Two Harbors, Minn., The late Keith Karsama and I were co-tourney managers of the event, and we looked on in amazement as a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 people showed up for Sunday's games.

For one day, Tapiola was the third largest town in Houghton County.

Also high on the list was the unlikely accomplishment of my Bud's Big Saver team in the Over 35 League playoffs in 1981.

Bud's, which had finished seventh in an eight-team league, first defeated an Alston team that had ripped it by more than 20 runs a week before; ended Mosquito Inn's record 36-game win streak; and finally knocked off a heavily favored Monte Carlo club twice for the title.

A four-run rally with two outs in the final inning was the cap to that improbable run.

In 2005, an injury-plagued and very shorthanded (we even had to use a spectator from the stands) Tapiola team won the 50 And Over playoffs by downing a strong Houghton squad by a 9-7 score.

If we had played that particular game a hundred times, we would have lost 99 of them.

U.P. Hall of Fame fast-pitch legend John "Topper" Ricci once told me that the legs were the first thing to go in a ballplayer.

But he didn't tell me about an aching rotator cuff, bone spurs in both feet and a bad knee. The end result of approximately 4,000 games ... and countless swings and throws.

Some evening in the next week or so, I'll walk off the old ball diamond in Tapiola for the final time. But in the vernacular of the 1960s, it's been a trip.



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